1. Mitzvot and their biblical source-texts
The Torah includes 613 commandments – Taryag Mitzvot. Each commandment is related to a passage in the Torah. In some instances the passage’s reference to the commandment is clear and obvious. In some instances the passage does not state the mitzvah in clear and obvious terms. Only through the interpretation of the passage provided by Torah BeAl Peh – the Oral Law and tradition – does the passage’s intended meaning emerge.
It is not uncommon for a mitzvah to be restated and discussed in multiple sections of the Torah. The commentators agree that, in such instances, one of the sections provides the passage that is the fundamental Torah source-text for the commandment. The other sections supplement this source-text. Determining which of these sections provides the actual source-text for the commandment is sometimes difficult. However, as shall be seen, this determination plays an important role in understanding the mitzvah.
The above passages explain that we are required to create within the Land of Israel a Bait HaMikdash – a Sacred Temple. Much of Parshat Re’eh is devoted to describing the significance of this institution. The Torah explains that once the Bait HaMikdash is built all sacrifices must be offered there and offering any sacrifice outside of the precincts of the Temple is prohibited. The parasha outlines other national activities whose focal point is the Bait HaMikdash and its environs. These include the tithe – Ma’aser Sheyne – that is brought to the city of the Bait HaMikdash – Yerushalayim – and consumed there in celebration and festivity. The parasha ends by describing the three Pilgrimage Festivals – the Regalim. These are Pesach, Shavuot, and Succot. For these festivals the entire nation ascends to Yerushalayim and celebrates before Hashem.
2. Three mitzvot that became operative when Bnai Yisrael entered the land
Maimonides explains that when Bnai Yisrael entered the Land of Israel they became responsible to implement three mitzvot. These mitzvot were not operative before that point. They were to appoint a king, destroy Amalek, and build the Bait HaMikdash. According to Maimonides, these commandments are sequential and must be performed in order. First the king is appointed. He leads the nation in battle against Amalek. With the completion of that battle and the establishment of security and peace in the land, the Temple is to be built.
The commandments were implemented in this order. The prophet Shmuel appointed, with Hashem’s direction, the first king – Shaul. Shaul led the nation in battle against Amalek and destroyed this adversary. King David succeeded Shaul. He subdued Bnai Yisrael’s enemies and brought peace and security to the land. With the establishment of tranquility in the land, he took the preliminary steps to building the Bait HaMikdash. The project was completed by his son Shlomo – King Solomon.
Maimonides provides a source-text for each of these three mitzvot. He cites the passage above from Parshat Re’eh as the text for the mitzvah of establishing the Bait HaMikdash. Indeed the passage does clearly command Bnai Yisrael in this mitzvah.
And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them. (Shemot 25:8)
3. The source-text for the mitzvah to create a Bait HaMikdash
Maimonides’ Mishne Torah – his code of Torah law – includes a thorough treatment of the mitzvah to build a Bait HaMikdash. This discussion includes a delineation of the laws governing the structure of the Bait HaMikdash and its components. In this discussion, he cites the above passage from Sefer Shemot as the source- text for the mitzvah. In fact, Maimonides consistently cites the passage from Sefer Shemot as the source-text for the mitzvah of creating a Bait HaMikdash. Why, then, does Maimoindes depart from his general practice and cite the passage from our parasha when listing the three commandments that became operative when Bnai Yisrael entered the Land of Israel? Answering this question will require some background information.
4. The restriction against bamot
As noted above, with the establishment of the Bait HaMikdash, the offering of any sacrifice outside of its precincts became prohibited. The Talmud explains that prior to the Bait HaMikdash’s establishment various precursor entities were created and these also coincided with the placement of some degree of restriction upon sacrificial service.
When Bnai Yisrael traveled through the wilderness, the Mishcan – the Tabernacle – was the focal point to the camp. The Mishcan was the earliest precursor of the Bait HaMikdash. Sacrifices were offered in it and the design, structure, and components of the Temple were based upon the Tabernacle’s design and components.
When the nation entered the Land of Israel, the Mishcan was erected at Gilgal and remained there for fourteen years. During that period, sacrificial service outside of the Mishcan was somewhat restricted. In general terms, communal sacrifices were offered only in the Mishcan. However, private offerings could be brought on bamot – private altars outside of the Mishcan.
From Gilgal the Mishcan was relocated to Shiloh. The Mishcan of Shiloh was a semi-permanent structure. It featured stone walls but it did not have a permanent roof. Its roof was composed of the curtains of the Mishcan. The Mishcan remained in Shiloh for 369 years – until it was destroyed by the Pelishtim. During the Shiloh era sacrificial service was restricted to the Mishcan. Bamot were prohibited.
The Mishcan was next erected at Nov and then transferred to Givon. It was at these two locations for a total of 57 years. During this period, the restriction against bamot – sacrificial service outside of the Mishcan – was rescinded and private sacrifices were permitted outside of the Mishcan.
The Mishcan of Givon was replaced by the Bait HaMikdash in Yerushalayim. With its completion, bamot were permanently prohibited.
In short, during the Shiloh period and from the moment that the Bait HaMikdash was placed in service, all sacrifices beyond these structures were prohibited. However, prior to the creation of the Shiloh Mishcan and during the period between its destruction and the establishment of the Bait HaMikdash, this restriction was not completely in effect. Bamot were permitted outside of the Tabernacle or Temple.
This suggests two conclusions. First, the Shiloh Mishcan was – in some sense – on par with the Bait HaMikdash. Both engendered an unqualified restriction against bamot. Second, in some manner, the Gilgal, Nov, and Givon iterations of the Mishcan were inferior versions of the institution. They did not engender the unqualified restriction against bamot. What common trait was shared by the Shiloh Mishcan and the ,i>Bait HaMikdash? Why were the Mishcan versions of Gilgal, Nov, and Givon inferior?
You shall not do as all that we do here this day, every man whatsoever is right in his own eyes; for you have not as yet come to the rest and to the inheritance, which Hashem your G-d gives you. (Devarim 12:8-9)
5. The uniqueness of the Shiloh Mishcan and the Bait HaMikdash
In the two passages above, Moshe explains to Bnai Yisrael that with entry into the Land of Israel, sacrificial service will become restricted. Moshe explains that this will occur once the nation comes to its “rest” and its “inheritance”. In other words, Moshe is explaining that entry into the Land of Israel does not in itself engender the restriction against bamot. Instead, the nation’s coming to its “rest” and “inheritance” engenders the prohibition.
Commenting on this passage, Rashi explains that according to our Sages the term “rest” refers to the Shiloh Mishcan. The term “inheritance” refers to the Bait HaMikdash. Based on this interpretation, the passages can be restated. They teach that with the establishment of the Shiloh version of the Mishcan, bamot will become prohibited. They will again become prohibited with the establishment of the Bait HaMikdash.
However, the passage provides much more information. It communicates the reason that these two versions of the Tabernacle/Temple engender the prohibition against bamot. The prohibition only comes into effect when the nation comes to “rest”. When the conquest is completed and Bnai Yisrael is – for a time – secure in the land, a Shiloh version of the Mishcan can be created. With its creation bamot become prohibited. However, with the destruction of Shiloh, the period of “rest” was interrupted. Bamot were again permitted during the era of Nov and Givon.
King David vanquished the enemies of Bnai Yisrael. During his reign Bnai Yisrael asserted its sovereignty over the land. The promise made to the Patriarchs was fulfilled and the Land of Israel became the “inheritance” or legacy of Bnai Yisrael. Now, the Bait HaMikdash could be established. King David initiated this process and his son Shlomo completed it. Again, bamot became prohibited. This time the restriction was permanent.
6. The unusual structure of the Shiloh Mishcan
This explains two interesting aspects of the various Tabernacles and Temples – all of which can be subsumed within the term “Sanctuaries”. First, as mentioned above, the Shiloh Mishcan was structurally distinguished from the versions of the Mishcan that preceded and followed it. The Shiloh Mishcan featured stone walls. Why did only this version of the Mishcan have this feature? Rashi’s comments provide a simple response to this issue. The Shiloh Mishcan corresponded with “rest” – stability and security in the land. Therefore, it was constructed in a more permanent manner than its predecessors and successors. These other Tabernacles were elaborate tents.
7. The concept of Bait HaBechirah
Second, Maimonides refers to the Bait HaMikdash as the Bait HaBechirah – the Chosen House. What is the meaning of this name and why is it only associated only with the Bait HaMikdash and not with the versions of the Mishcan that preceded it? Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik Zt”l explains that the term Bait HaBechirah expresses a unique aspect of the Bait HaMikdash. No version of the Mishcan was erected at a location intended to be the permanent site for Bnai Yisrael’s spiritual center. Each site was intended to serve as a temporary location for its Tabernacle. However, the Bait HaMikdash was erected upon the site chosen by Hashem as the everlasting home for His Sacred Temple. No other site will ever replace it. The Second Bait HaMikdash was constructed upon the foundations of the First Temple. The third and final Bait HaMikdash will occupy the same location. This is the “chosen” element of the Bait HaBechirah. It is erected upon the site chosen by Hashem as the everlasting location of His Sacred Temple.
The selection of a permanent site for the Bait HaMikdash only became meaningful when the Land of Israel was secured as the inheritance of Bnai Yisreal. The term “inheritance” implies a permanent legacy. When the land becomes the permanent legacy of Bnai Yisrael it can have a site selected as its everlasting spiritual center. Before the land became Bnai Yisrael’s inheritance and permanent legacy, it could not feature a site endowed with everlasting status.
8. Each source-text is selected with precision
Now, the original question can be reconsidered. Maimonides consistently refers to the Sefer Shemot passage as the biblical source-text for the commandment to create a Bait HaMikdash. However, in describing the three commandments that the nation is enjoined to execute upon entering the Land of Israel, Maimonides cites the passage from Parshat Re’eh as the biblical source-text legislating the establishment of the Bait HaMikdash. Why does Maimonides not cite the passage from Sefer Shemot in this context?
In Maimonides’ discussion of the mitzvah to create the Bait HaMikdash, he begins with a description of the iterations of the Mishcan that preceded it. Maimonides’ inclusion of the precursors to the Bait HaMikdash in this section suggests that he regards the various versions of the Mishcan and the Bait HaMikdash itself as expressions of a single commandment. In other words, the mitzvah to create a Mikdash is fulfilled through different structures in different eras. In the wilderness it was fulfilled with the creation of the original Mishcan. All of the iterations of the Mishcan that were created in the Land of Israel were the appropriate expressions of the mitzvah. Each was appropriate for its era. The Bait HaMikdash represents the final and highest expression of the mitzvah. In short, the commandment enjoins us to create a Mikdash or Sanctuary. The appropriate form for that Sanctuary varies with the era.
As Maimonides explains, one of the mitzvot that Bnai Yisrael were directed to perform upon entry into the Land of Israel was the creation of the Bait HaMikdash. Maimonides is precise in his selection of source-texts. In this context, the passage from Sefer Shemot does not suffice as a source-text. That passage is the source-text for the general commandment to create a Mikdash – a Sanctuary. That commandment is fulfilled through the Mishcan as well as the Bait HaMikdash. The passage Maimonides selects is not the source-text for the overall commandment. He cites the passage that directs Bnai Yisrael to create a Bait HaBechirah – a specific expression of the overall mitzvah. This passage communicates that once Bnai Yisrael enters the land and has made it the inheritance or legacy of the nation, it must create a Bait HaMikdash – a permanent Bait HaBechirah. Therefore, in this context, this passage is the proper source-text. It is not the biblical foundation of the general mitzvah. Instead, it explains that after sovereignty is established, the nation is directed to give the mitzvah its highest expression. A Bait HaBechirah must be created.
9 The spiritual nature of the Land of Israel
It is possible that the Torah is communicating to us that the Land of Israel becomes our inheritance – our legacy only with the creation of the Bait HaMikdash. True, the nation must establish sovereignty over the land before building the Sacred Temple. However, sovereignty is necessary but not adequate – in itself – to transform the land into the permanent legacy of the nation. This transformation requires that Bnai Yisrael superimpose upon the material land a spiritual character. The selection of a permanent site for the Bait HaMikdash accomplishes this transformation. This site becomes the heart and soul of the land. The entire land draws from and reflects the sanctity of this focal point of national communal life.
1.Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam / Maimonides) Mishne Torah, Hilchot Melachim 1:1-2.
2.Mesechet Zevachim 14:4-8.
3.Rabbaynu Shlomo ben Yitzchak (Rashi), Commentary on Sefer Devarim 12:9.
4.Maimonides entitles the section of his code that deals with the structure and design of the Bait HaMikdash “the laws of the Bait HaBechirah”.
5.The main insight presented above is suggested by a lecture of Rav Aharon Kahn (http://www.yutorah.org/lectures/lecture.cfm/756078/Rabbi_Eli_Baruch_Shulman/Should_we_have_built_the_Bais_HaMikdash_sooner-shittas_haRamban). The balance of the material is an elaboration and extension of the insight suggested by his lecture.